Introduction to Kinship


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Defines kinship and explains its importance. Reviews the biological and sociological constants of kinship; Previews the topicsto be covered in marriage, family and larger kinship units.

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Introduction to Kinship

  1. 1. Introduction to Marriage, Family, and Kinship The Biological and Sociological Constants
  2. 2. Kinship: The Foundation of Most Pre-Industrial Societies <ul><li>From Australian Aborigines to West Africa, families and their extensions form the core of preindustrial societies; </li></ul><ul><li>Inuit (Eskimo) are centered around nuclear families. </li></ul><ul><li>Ashanti, Yoruba, and other West African societies develop complex social systems based on extended families and groups derived from them. </li></ul><ul><li>In the next several lectures, we will look at the functions of sex, gender, marriage, families, and wider kin-based groups in social institutions around the world. </li></ul>
  3. 3. What is Kinship? <ul><li>This picture of three generations of Native American females helps us define what kinship is about. Study of relations based on several dimensions: </li></ul><ul><li>First, it is about sex and gender; it takes sex to reproduce and both sexes to rear children </li></ul><ul><li>Second, it is about the family needed to nurture and teach this child the ways of its culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Third, it is about rules of inheritance and succession, which in this society goes through the female line. </li></ul><ul><li>Fourth, it is about how larger groups are formed from the family and descent rules to carry out the other functions of society . </li></ul>
  4. 4. Why Kinship? <ul><li>The family and its extension is the world’s first organization. </li></ul><ul><li>Kinship Forms basis of: </li></ul><ul><li>Property rights: who shall have the right to own property? </li></ul><ul><li>Division of labor starts with how women and men are culturally assigned their tasks. </li></ul><ul><li>Economic units start with the family. </li></ul><ul><li>Political organizations and rules of social control are founded on kinship recognition in most societies </li></ul><ul><li>Even supernatural relations rest on kinship—ancestor worship reflects this. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The Constants of Kinship <ul><li>Kinship addresses the limits set by biology and universals of culture related to these limits. </li></ul><ul><li>These are known as constants, or human traits that you will find in most cultures, if not all. </li></ul><ul><li>Some constants are biological, what we are born with everywhere; others are sociological, the product of culture and its rules of human conduct. </li></ul><ul><li>Biological factors are absolute: Human are of two sexes, without which they and their societies could not exist. </li></ul><ul><li>Sociological factors are statistical: their occurrence may involve the majority of societies, but not all. </li></ul><ul><li>All of these factors are variables that kinship addresses. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Constants of Kinship: Biological <ul><li>Sex Constitute the First Two Constants. </li></ul><ul><li>Men impregnate the women with their sperm, fertilizing the egg. </li></ul><ul><li>Women bear the children; no man can do so. </li></ul><ul><li>Copulation implies cooperation between two persons, and by extension implies cooperation between two groups—the families of the man and woman at a minimum. </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes it implies cooperation between groups larger than the family, </li></ul>
  7. 7. Constants of Kinship: Nurturance and Enculturation. <ul><li>The third biological constant of kinship is the long period of child dependence, which occurs in two phases </li></ul><ul><li>From birth to about three years or four, the child is nurtured by (as depicted by this statue of Yashoda and baby Krishna, a Hindu deity, in India) </li></ul><ul><li>After that period, the child is enculturated, or taught in the ways of the culture, by both parents </li></ul><ul><li>Usually, the parent trains the child of the same sex as himself or herself. </li></ul><ul><li>Here, a !Kung father teaches his son how to use a bow and arrow. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Constants of Kinship: Death—Or You Can’t Take It With You <ul><li>Death is the fourth biological constant of kinship. </li></ul><ul><li>Because even the miser, depicted in this painting by Hieronymus Bosch, can’t take his moneybags with him, a decision has to be made about inheritance: </li></ul><ul><li>Cultures vary: Is the property to go to the eldest son? The sister’s eldest son? Or all male children or all children, male for female? Property to eldest son? </li></ul><ul><li>Decisions of succession also comes into play. Who inherits the kingship, assuming the society is a state? How about the role of household head? </li></ul>
  9. 9. Sociological Constants of Kinship <ul><li>Biological constants are determined biologically and is determinative: </li></ul><ul><li>We come in two sexes (though of theoretical interest, exceptions are too rare to play any significant role in most kinship issues) </li></ul><ul><li>We all have long periods of dependence and eventually we die. </li></ul><ul><li>Sociological constants are subject to variability and so are more statistical issues. </li></ul><ul><li>The incest tabu is nearly universal, yet there are significant exceptions </li></ul><ul><li>Male dominance is widespread, but there are numerous exceptions, as well. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Constants of Kinship: Incest Tabu I <ul><li>The incest tabu is universal, especially between primary kin (Father-daugher, mother-son, and sister-brother) </li></ul><ul><li>That primary kin may not mate with each other is a widespread rule. </li></ul><ul><li>The story of Lot and his two daughters in the Book of Genesis is one case of incest </li></ul><ul><li>After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the daughters believed they were the only humans left. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, they plied their father with wine and copulated with him and so founded two tribes, the Moabites and the Ammonites </li></ul>
  11. 11. Constants of Kinship: Incest Tabu II <ul><li>In contrast with the legend of Lot and his daughters, there are three ethnographically documented exceptions. </li></ul><ul><li>Brother and sister marriage was mandated within the royal lineage of the Egyptians of the pharaohs (depicted), Hawaiian, and Inca. : Brother sister marriage of royal lineage </li></ul><ul><li>Tylor suggest one reason for such a widespread tabu: Tribes have the option “to marry out or die out” </li></ul><ul><li>In any case, marriage outside the family or other kin group is a universal obligation. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Constants of Kinship: Male Dominance <ul><li>The second sociological constant, male dominance, is widespread. </li></ul><ul><li>Males exercise authority over households and wider groups in most cultures. </li></ul><ul><li>This group of Masai men to the upper left is a classic example; they own cattle, engage in warfare principally over cattle, and so male cooperation and dominance is commonplace. </li></ul><ul><li>On the other hand, Iroquois women controlled the land they cultivated, they owned the longhouses, and voted for the council, though they did not sit on the council or serve as chiefs </li></ul>
  13. 13. Constants of Kinship: Constants <ul><li>The constants of kinship are biological and social facts of life around which rules of descent have to address. </li></ul><ul><li>The reproductive role of the two sexes occurs cross-culturally </li></ul><ul><li>So does the long period of child dependence </li></ul><ul><li>Death also is inevitable, though taxes may not be so in societies outside the state. </li></ul><ul><li>The incest tabu is universal or nearly so; why it is has generated explanations but they all have shortcomings in one way or anther, a topic we take up later. </li></ul><ul><li>Male dominance is widespread, but there are many societies in which women have strong influence. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Overview of Topics I <ul><li>In the modules that follow, we begin with the primary principles of descent: bilateral and unilineal. </li></ul><ul><li>Descent governs all aspects of marriage, family, and kinship and so we start with that topic first. </li></ul><ul><li>Sex and gender relations are then taken up, including sexual behavior (especially incest) and gender, the cultural derivative of the differences between the sexes. </li></ul><ul><li>We then look at marriage, definition of the term (including the well known practice of sambandham in southwest India), its functions, and its types. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Overview of Topics II <ul><li>Next, we look at family structures and their households. </li></ul><ul><li>We also look at multiple marriages (polygynous and polyandrous) and how they structure the family and household. </li></ul><ul><li>We then focus on nuclear and extended families and connect them to rules of postmarital residence. </li></ul><ul><li>Next discussed are descent-based groups, such as lineages, clans, and ambilineal descent groups </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, we return to marriage and see how the alliances created by them affect relations among different kin groups and societies. </li></ul><ul><li>In the rest of the course, we look at ways kinship impinges on economies, political entities, and even religion. </li></ul>